The Expansion of Prussia.

Kingdom and the largest unit of the German empire. The kingdom of Prussia grew out of the margravate of Brandenburg, which in 1415 was given to a prince of the Hohenzollern family. A member of this family, who in 1525 was grand master of the Teutonic Order and, as such, ruler of Prussia, embraced Protestantism and declared himself a secular ruler. His territory was in 1618 united with Brandenburg. New acquisitions in the west and north of Germany under Frederick William, the Great Elector (1640-1688), considerably increased the area of the state, which, under his successor, Frederick, was proclaimed as the kingdom of Prussia (1701). Frederick the Great's acquisition of Silesia in 1742 and of part of Poland in 1772 further increased its area. After the upheavals of the Napoleonic period, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 strengthened Prussia by attaching to it various small German territories. Finally, in 1866, after the war with Austria, Prussia was given Hanover, Hesse-Nassau, Hesse-Homburg, Hesse-Cassel, Sleswick-Holstein, the free city of Frankfort-on-the-Main, and some small territories ceded by Bavaria and Saxony. The establishment of the German empire under Prussian hegemony, in 1871, has made Prussia the leading state in Germany.

Oldest Settlements.

Through the annexation of territories in western Germany, Prussia has come into possession of the oldest Jewish settlements in Germany—those founded along the Rhine and its principal tributaries, which have been highroads of commerce since the time of the Roman conquest. The oldest notice of Jews in Germany occurs in an edict of Emperor Constantine (321), which orders that the Jews of Cologne shall not be exempt from service on the municipal board. While these Jews may have been traders living temporarily in Cologne, the probabilities are that they were permanent settlers, since the rabbis and elders are expressly exempted from the duties in question (Grätz, "Gesch." iv. 333, v. 195; Stobbe, "Die Juden in Deutschland," pp. 8, 88, 201; Aronius, "Regesten," No. 2). The Jew Isaac, whom Charlemagneattached to the embassy which he sent to Calif Harun al-Rashid, most likely came from Germany, for on his return he reported at Aachen (Pertz, "Monumenta Germaniæ Historica; Scriptores," i. 190; Grätz, "Gesch." iv. 333; Aronius, l.c. No. 71). An order dated 820, authorizing a raid upon suspicious characters in Aachen, mentions expressly both Christian and Jewish merchants (Pertz, ib. "Leges," i. 158; Aronius, l.c. No. 79). Since Jews are referred to frequently in Constance and Mayence after the tenth century, there can be hardly any doubt that in that century they possessed relatively numerous settlements in the Rhenish cities, now under Prussian rule. Jewish merchants in Magdeburg and Merseburg are mentioned in 965, and about the same time reference is made to a salt-mine under Jewish management near Naumburg (Aronius, l.c. Nos. 129 and 132).


In the beginning of the eleventh century, in what are at present the western provinces of Prussia, traces of larger communities and of spiritual activity are found. A synagogue was built at Cologne in 1012. Gershom ben Judah (d. 1028), who taught at Mayence, speaks of the important traffic carried on by Jews at the fairs of Cologne. Joshua, physician to Archbishop Bruno of Treves, was converted to Christianity; a later convert was the monk Herman of Cologne (formerly Judah ben David ha-Levi), who was baptized in 1128, and who tells in his autobiography of the thorough Talmudic education he had received. The Crusades brought terrible sufferings to the Jews of these parts of Prussia. In 1096 a great many communities in the present Rhine Province were annihilated, as those of Cologne, Treves, Neuss, Altenahr, Xanten, and Geldern. In the Second Crusade (1146-47) the congregations of Magdeburg (which had suffered in 1096) and Halle were martyred. When Benjamin of Tudela visited Germany, about 1170, he found many flourishing congregations in Rhenish Prussia and a considerable number of Talmudic scholars ("Itinerary," ed. Asher, i. 162 et seq.). Even east of Rhenish territory, and as early as the thirteenth century, a number of Jewish settlements in apparently flourishing condition existed. The Archbishop of Magdeburg as early as 1185 granted to the convent of Seeberg two marks which the Jews of Halle were required to pay him as an annual tribute (Aronius, l.c. No. 319).

Jews are mentioned as "owners" of villages near Breslau early in the thirteenth century; evidently they held mortgages on lands owned by nobles; and in 1227 Duke Henry I. of Silesia ruled that Jewish farmers in the district of Beuthen should be required to pay tithes to the Bishop of Breslau (ib. Nos. 360-361, 364). In the principality of Jülich, which was annexed to Prussia by the Great Elector, Henry VII. conceded (1227) to Count William absolute control over the Jews in his territory; this seems to be the first case on record in which a German emperor made such a concession to one of his vassals (ib. No. 441). By 1261 the Jewish legislation of Magdeburg had come to be regarded as a standard for other towns, and had been adopted by Duke Barnim I. of Pomerania for Stettin and other towns in his territory (ib. No. 678).

About the middle of the thirteenth century the Archbishop of Treves claimed jurisdiction over the Jews. He required them to furnish annually 150 marks in silver for his mint, six pounds of pepper for his household, and two pounds for his treasurer ("camerarius"). To this tax were added silks and belts, while the archbishop undertook to give annually to the "bishop" of the Jews a cow, a pitcher of wine, two bushels of wheat, and an old mantle "for which he had no further use" ("quo abjecto deinceps indui non vult"; ib. No. 581). While originally the gifts of the archbishop were evidently a symbol of his protection, the description of the mantle clearly shows a desire to humiliate the Jews.

Ecclesiastical Oppression.

Persecutions, though less fierce than those of 1096, continued sporadically during the thirteenth century; the decisions of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) were reaffirmed by various diocesan synods, including that of Mayence, held at Fritzlar in 1259. Just before the century dawned the Crusaders murdered eight Jews in Boppard (1195); about 1206 the Jews of Halle were expelled and their houses burned; in 1221 twenty-six Jews were killed in Erfurt. The first positive blood accusation was made in Fulda in 1235, when thirty-two Jews were killed by Crusaders. The Jews of Halle and Magdeburg are said to have been mulcted to the extent of 100,000 marks by the archbishop; this, however, is probably an exaggeration. Occasionally rioters were punished; or, rather, the rulers fined the offending municipality a certain sum as compensation for the loss caused to their treasury by the killing and plundering of the Jews. Thus the city of Magdeburg paid to the archbishop 1,000 marks in connection with the outrages committed against the Jews in 1206. In 1246 King Conrad IV., in the name of his father, Emperor Frederick II., acquitted the citizens of Frankfort-on-the-Main of all responsibility for the riot of 1241, during which 180 Jews had been killed. Nevertheless the unprotected condition of the Jews, who were the victims alternately of mobs and of legitimate rulers, became so serious a source of disturbance, and the letting loose of the passions of the mob became so dangerous to public safety, especially in view of the weakness of the federal government, that measures for the protection of the Jews became a necessity. Thus King William, in a charter granted to the city of Goslar in 1252, promised expressly that he would not molest the Jews of that city or imprison them without cause (Aronius, l.c. No. 585). In 1255 he confirmed the peace agreement ("Landfrieden") promulgated by the Rhenish Federation, and in which the Jews were expressly included (ib. No. 620). The Bishop of Halberstadt made a treaty with that city in 1261, in which both contracting parties promised to protect the Jews, not to impose unlawful taxes upon them, and to allow them to leave the city whenever they chose (ib. No. 676). It would appear that this treaty was a consequence of the cruel treatment the Jews of Magdeburg had received from their archbishop earlier in the same year. The Abbess of Quedlinburg, under whose authority the Jews of that city lived, exhorted the citizens in the nameof Christianity not to do any harm to the Jews (1273; ib. No. 763).


In the margravate of Brandenburg, which was the nucleus of the Prussian monarchy, Jews are first mentioned in 1297, when the margraves Otto and Conrad promulgated a law for the Jews of Stendal. In Spandau Jews are mentioned in 1307; in the city of Brandenburg, in 1315; in Neuruppin, in 1329. The Jews of Berlin and Cöln (later incorporated with Berlin) are first mentioned in a law of Margrave Waldemar, dated Sept. 15, 1317, which provides that in criminal cases the Jews shall be amenable to the city court of Berlin. The jurisdiction of this court over the Jews was extended to civil and police cases in 1320, and to cases of all kinds in 1323. This measure, however, seems to have been a temporary one, and was probably due to the desire of winning the city over to one of the claimants to the margravate after the death of Margrave Waldemar in 1319. When in 1324 Ludwig IV. gave Brandenburg to his son Ludwig the Elder, the measure was disregarded, for in the charter granted to the Jews of the margravate on Sept. 9, 1344, jurisdiction over the Jews was again reserved to the margrave's judges, except where a Jew had committed some flagrant offense ("culpa notoria perpetrata"). The Jews were further protected against exactions and arbitrary imprisonment; they might not be indicted unless two Jewish witnesses appeared against them as well as two Christians. They were allowed to take anything as a pledge provided they took it in the daytime, and they might take horses, grain, or garments in payment of debts (Sello, "Markgraf Ludwig des Aelteren Neumärkisches Judenprivileg vom 9. September, 1344," in "Der Baer, Zeitschrift für Vaterländische Gesch. und Alterthumskunde," 1879, No. 3; see abstract in "Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1879, pp. 365 et seq.).

It seems that during the time of the Black Death the Jews in Brandenburg suffered as much as those elsewhere. Margrave Ludwig recommended the Jews of Spandau to the protection of their fellow citizens (Nov. 26, 1349). The city of Salzwedel sold the "Judenhof" (cemetery ?) with the exception of the "Judenschule" (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." xxi. 24). The quitclaims granted by Margrave Ludwig in 1352 and by his brother Otto in 1361, for "what has happened to the Jews," clearly prove the perpetration of outrages against the latter ("Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1879, p. 365). An obscure report speaks of an order issued by Margrave Ludwig to burn all the Jews of Königsberg (Grätz, "Gesch," vii. 378). But the exclusion of Jews from Brandenburg could not have lasted long, for in 1353 mention is made of the income which the margrave derived from the Jews of Müncheberg.

Under the Hohenzollerns.

The Hohenzollern family, taking possession of the margravate in 1415, treated the Jews with fairness. Frederick I. confirmed their charter of 1344, and especially their right to sell meat, which the butchers' gilds often contested (Steinschneider, l.c. xxi. 24). About the middle of the fifteenth century expulsions took place in Brandenburg as elsewhere. In 1446 Elector Frederick II. ordered all Jews remaining in the margravate to be imprisoned and their property confiscated. Soon afterward, however, it was decreed that the Jews should be readmitted; Stendal refused to obey the decree, but was finally compelled to yield to the margrave's wishes (1454; "Monatsschrift," 1882, pp. 34-39). The growing power of the margraves, who by 1488 had succeeded in breaking the opposition of the cities, brought greater security to the Jews, who, as willing taxpayers, were settled in various cities by the princes.

As late as Dec. 21, 1509, Margrave Joachim received Jews into his territory. In the year following a Christian who had stolen a monstrance from a church testified that he had been hired by the Jews to sell them a consecrated host; in consequence thirty-six Jews were burned at the stake in Berlin, while two who had accepted Christianity were beheaded (July 17, 1510; Grätz, "Gesch." ix. 99-100; "Zeitschrift für die Gesch. der Juden in Deutschland," ii. 21, 23). The Jews were then expelled from the margravate and their synagogues and cemeteries confiscated, as appears from an agreement between Margrave Joachim and the city of Tangermünde (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." xxi. 26).

The exclusion of the Jews from the Mark seems not to have lasted very long, for in 1544 the famous financier Michel Jud is found as owner of a house in Berlin, where he enjoyed the protection of Elector Joachim II. It appears that the espousal of the cause of the Reformation by the latter resulted in the repeal of the edict of expulsion; for the decree of expulsion having been due to the fact that the Jews had been accused of committing a crime which had been attended by the usual miraculous consequences, and Protestant views precluding belief in the miraculous phenomena alleged, the entire accusation was discredited and the edict repealed. Joachim II. employed also as financial adviser Lippold of Prague, who upon the death of his protector became a victim of the policy which had made his master unpopular. Lippold was put to death under the charge that he had poisoned the elector (Jan. 28, 1573), and the Jews were again expelled from the territory (Grätz, "Gesch." ix. 474; "Jüdische Literaturblatt," 1875, p. 94). Meanwhile two Jews (in 1538 and 1541 respectively) had gained admission into Prussia (Königsberg), which the grand master Albert of Brandenburg, after his conversion to Protestantism, had declared a secular principality.

Spirit of Toleration.

Under the Great Elector, Frederick William (1640-1688), individual Jews were admitted into large cities like Halberstadt, and the Jews in the Jülich territory were left undisturbed. Finally Brandenburg, including Berlin, was opened to some Jewish families that had been exiled from Vienna (1670). The edict of admission, dated May 21, 1671, opened to the Jews all the cities of the Mark, allowed them to deal in various goods, subjected them to the city authorities in civil affairs, and in criminal affairs placed them under the jurisdiction of the elector's courts. They were forbidden to lend money at usury, or import debased, or export good, specie. They were required to pay eight thaler annuallyper family as protection money, but were exempted from the poll-tax (Leibzoll). They were granted freedom of worship, but were not permitted to build synagogues (Geiger, "Gesch. der Juden in Berlin," i. 6 et seq.). Complaints made by Christian merchants, however, soon resulted in restrictive measures; an edict of April 2, 1680, prohibited the Jews from dealing in hides; another of July 12, 1683, prohibited their dealing in silver and in specie. Their terms of toleration were limited to periods of twenty years, but renewal was always secured without any difficulty (Rönne and Simon, "Die Früheren und Gegenwärtigen Verhältnisse der Juden in den Sämmtlichen Landestheilen des Preussischen Staates," p. 207), although frequently a census of the Jews was taken at which each was required to show his credentials.

In spite of this strictness in supervision, and in spite of the fact that the Jews protected by charter were very jealous of their privileges and assigned a clerk to assist the police in excluding those of their coreligionists who were undesirable, the number of Jews in Berlin as elsewhere increased. A law of Jan. 24, 1700, stipulated that the Jews should pay double the amount of the former tax of eight thaler for every licensed ("vergleitete") family, and 3,000 thaler annually as a community, while their exemption from the poll-tax was withdrawn. Those who had no license ("unvergleitete Juden") were required to pay double the amount for the time that they had been in the country, and were then to be expelled. A petition from the Jews was granted in a new regulation, issued Dec. 7, 1700, exempting them from the poll-tax again, but raising their annual tribute to 1,000 ducats.

Frederick III. (1688-1714), who in 1701 proclaimed himself King of Prussia, needed the Jews to assist him in raising the funds required to meet the expenses of his extravagant household. Therefore he evaded replying clearly to the demands of the Prussian states (1689) for the expulsion of the Jews who, in part under his father, had been allowed to settle in Königsberg, Memel, and Tilsit; he declared that such petitions had been frequently made, and it had been found impossible to carry out the wishes of the states (Jolowicz, "Gesch. der Juden in Königsberg," p. 24, Posen, 1867).

Jost Liebmann and Marcus Magnus, court Jews, enjoyed special privileges and were permitted to maintain synagogues in their own houses; and in 1712 a concession was obtained for the building of a communal house of worship in Berlin. A law of May 20, 1704, permitted the Jews of Brandenburg to open stores and to own real estate; and even the principle that the number of privileged Jews should not be increased was set aside in favor of those who could pay from 40 to 100 reichsthaler, such being allowed to transfer their privileges to a second and a third son (Jolowicz, ib. p. 46). On the other hand, the king was easily persuaded to take measures against the supposed blasphemies of the Jews. Thus the synagogue service was placed under strict police supervision (Aug. 28, 1703), that the Jews might not pronounce blasphemies against Jesus (Rönne and Simon, l.c. p. 208; Geiger, l.c. i. 17; Moses, "Ein Zweihundertjährriges Jubiläum," in "Jüdische Presse," Supplement, 1902, pp. 29 et seq.). The king further permitted the reprinting of Eisenmenger's "Entdecktes Judenthum" in his states, though the emperor had prohibited it.

Frederick William I.

Frederick William I. (1714-40) was despotic though well-meaning, and treated the Jews, against whom he had strong religious prejudices, very harshly. He renewed the order against the passage in the 'Alenu prayer supposed to contain blasphemies against Jesus (1716), and acted on the principle that the community should be responsible for the wrong-doings of every individual. Levin Veit, a purveyor for the mint, died in 1721, leaving liabilities to the amount of 100,000 thaler. The king ordered that all Jews should assemble in the synagogue; it was surrounded by soldiers, and the rabbi, in the presence of a court chaplain, pronounced a ban against any one who was an accomplice in Levin's bankruptcy. The two laws which Frederick issued regulating the condition of the Jews, one for Brandenburg, May 20, 1714, the other the "General Juden Privilegium" of Sept. 29, 1730, breathe the spirit of intolerance. The number of Jews was limited; a "Privilegium" could ordinarily be transferred only to one son, and even then only on condition that the latter possessed no less than 2,000 thaler; in the case of a second or third son the sum required (as well as the taxes for a marriage license) was much higher. Of foreign Jews only those possessing at least 10,000 thaler were admitted.

The king's general harshness of manner knew no bounds when he dealt with Jewish affairs. Thus he answered the petition of the Berlin congregation for the remission of the burial dues for poor Jews with a curt note to the effect that if in any case the dues were not paid the hangman should take the body on his wheelbarrow and bury it under the gallows. He insisted that the congregation of Berlin should elect Moses Aaron Lemberger as its rabbi; and when it finally obtained permission to elect another rabbi it was compelled to pay very heavily therefor. On the other hand, the king was farsighted enough to give special liberties to Jewish manufacturers. Hirsch David Präger obtained (1730) permission to establish a velvet-manufactory in Potsdam, and so became the pioneer of the large manufacturing enterprises which rapidly developed under Frederick (Geiger, l.c. ii. 77 et seq.; Kälter, "Gesch. der Jüdischen Gemeinde zu Potsdam," p. 12, Potsdam, 1903; "Mittheilungen aus dem Verein zur Abwehr des Antisemitismus," 1897, pp. 337 et seq.).

Frederick the Great.

Frederick II. (the Great) (1740-86), although a scoffer in religious matters, declared in an official edict (April 17, 1774) that he disliked the Jews ("vor die Juden überhaupt nicht portirt"). Earlier in his reign, in signing a "Schutzbrief" for the second son of a privileged Jew, he had said that this would be exceptional, because it was his principle that the number of Jews should be diminished (1747). Still, great statesman as he was, he utilized the commercial genius of the Jews to carry out his protectionist plans, and therefore, following in the footsteps of his father, he granted exceptional privileges to Jews who opened manufacturing establishments. Thus Moses Rics obtained an exclusive privilege for hissilk-manufactory in Potsdam (1764); later on others secured similar privileges, including Isaac Bernhard, Moses Mendelssohn's employer. While the Jews were thus benefited by the king's protectionist policy, they suffered from it in other ways. An edict of March 21, 1769, ordered that every Jew, before he married or bought a house, must buy from 300 to 500 thaler's worth of chinaware and export it.

When Frederick acquired Silesia (1742) he confirmed the Austrian legislation regarding the Jews (Berndt, "Gesch. der Juden in Gross-Glogau," p. 64, Glogau, n.d.). When he took part of the kingdom of Poland, in 1772, he was with great difficulty dissuaded from expelling the Jews, his aversion to whom was especially manifested in his refusal to confirm Moses Mendelssohn's election as a member of the Berlin Academy. His revised "Generalreglement und Generalprivilegium" of April 17, 1750 (Rönne and Simon, l.c. pp. 241 et seq.), was very narsh. It restricted the number of Jewish marriages, excluded the Jews from most of the branches of skilled labor, from dealing in wool and yarn, and from brewing and innkeeping, and limited their activity in those trades permitted to them. Of his many hostile orders may be mentioned one which held a congregation responsible if one of its members received stolen goods.


The short reign of Frederick William II. (1786-97) brought some slight relief to the Jews, as the repeal of the law compelling the buying of china, for which repeal they had to pay 4,000 thaler (1788). Individual regulations issued for various communities, as for Breslau in 1790, still breathed the medieval spirit; and a real change came only when Prussia, after the defeat at Jena (1806), inaugurated a liberal policy, a part of which was the edict of March 11, 1812, concerning the civil status of the Jews (Rönne and Simon, l.c. pp. 264 et seq.). Its most important features were the declaration of their civic equality with Christians and their admission to the army. They were further admitted to professorships in the universities, and were promised political rights for the future.

The reaction following the battle of Waterloo and the fact that Frederick William III. (1797-1840) was himself a strict reactionary caused a corresponding change of conditions. Still the edict of 1812 remained valid with the exception of section viii., declaring the right of the Jews to hold professorships; this the king canceled (1822). But the law was declared to apply only to those provinces which had been under Prussian dominion in 1812; and so it came that twenty-two anomalous laws concerning the status of the Jews existed in the kingdom. This condition, aggravated by such reactionary measures as the prohibition against the adoption of Christian names (1828), led first to the promulgation of the law of June 1, 1833, concerning the Jews in the grand duchy of Posen—this was from the start a temporary measure—and finally to the law of July 23, 1847, which extended civil equality to all Jews of Prussia and gave them certain political rights. Although the constitutions of 1848 and 1850 gave the Jews full equality, the period of reaction, beginning in the fifties, withdrew many of these rights by interpretation.

Frederick William IV. (1840-61), who declared in the beginning of his reign that he desired to exclude the Jews from military service, believed strongly in a "Christian" state. When his brother William I. (1861-88) became regent conditions began to improve; Jews were admitted to professorships and to the legal profession, but remained still practically excluded from military careers and from the service of the state. The last vestige of medievalism disappeared with the abolition of the Oath More Judaico in 1869. The history of the Jews in Prussia since 1870 is practically identical with that of the Jews of Germany. See, however, Anti-Semitism.

Prussia has a population of 34,472,000, including 392,332 Jews (1900).

  • Jost, Neuere Gesch. der Israeliten, vol. i., Berlin, 1846;
  • Rönne and Simon, Die Früheren und Gegenwärtigen Verhältnisse der Juden in den Sämmtlichen Landestheilen des Preussischen Staates, Breslau, 1843;
  • Geiger, Gesch. der Juden in Berlin, Berlin, 1871;
  • W. Freund, Entwurf zu einer Zeitgemässen Verfassung der Juden in Preussen, Breslau, 1842;
  • Vollständige Verhandlungen des Ersten Vereinigten Preussischen Landtages über die Emancipations-Frage der Juden, Berlin, 1847,
  • and various monographs on the history of important congregations, as Bromberg, Erfurt, Königsberg, Magdeburg;
  • Zeitschrift für Gesch. der Juden in Deutschland, ii. 20-29 (for periodicals).